Insurable interest

Can I pick the most dangerous neighborhood in the country, and take out a $250,000 life insurance policy on 100 random people? Knowing that the likelihood on one of them getting killed this year is pretty high, and the likelihood of me being a millionaire in the next 5 years is equally high?

Probably not. Not if I don’t have an “insurable interest” in the people whose lives I am insuring. Do I stand to benefit more from them alive? Do I stand to actually suffer a loss if they do die? If the answer to these questions is No, then there probably isn’t an insurable interest, and any policy I bought or tried to buy would be deemed not a contract for insurance at all.

What if i’m leasing a property, that I use for business purposes and supporting myself and my family. Can I insure the life of the owner of that property?

As you may have noticed, these cases hinge greatly on the facts. I can insure my wife’s life. My mother, brother, or other blood relatives with what seems to be no issue. My car, my house, even my own business. These all seem obvious, so where’s the fun in even asking? When it comes to non-relatives, or property that one does not own, or other peripherals, it becomes more difficult, and less “black and white.”


Snethen v. Oklahoma State Union of Famers represents one of those strange cases. Snethen buys a car, he insures the car, and then is in an accident in which the car is damage. Will his insurance company pay for the damage? Sure they will…or will they? Turns out the car Snethen bought was previously stolen, unbeknownst to him and the insurance company doesn’t want to pay, claiming that Snethen cannot have an insurable interest in stolen property. In this case the court decides that since his reliance upon the sale and the purchase of the insurance policy is honest and reasonable, that he in fact does have an insurable interest.

Beard v. American Agency Life Ins. Co., 314 Md. 235 (1988) is the case I referenced earlier, about leasing a property for business purposes, and insuring against the death of the owner. In this case, we deal with 150 acres of farm land in western Maryland. There is discussion of the owner selling the lessee the property, upon his death. Since the lessee doesn’t really have the money to buy it, he takes out a life insurance policy against the owner, for the cost of the land. Essentially getting the insurance company to buy the property for him, when the time is right. One major issue is that he stops leasing the property, sells all of this business equipment and disengages entirely years before the owner passes away.

Maryland actually defines criteria for an insurable interest:

(1) In the case of individuals related closely by blood or by law, a substantial interest engendered by love and affection.

(2) In the case of other persons, a lawful and substantial economic interest in having the life, health, or bodily safety of the individual insured continue, as distinguished from an interest which would arise only by, or would be enhanced in value by, the death, disablement or injury of the individual insured.

(3) An individual heretofore or hereafter party to a contract or option for the purchase or sale of an interest in a business partnership or firm, or of shares of stock of a closed corporation or of an interest in such shares, has an insurable interest in the life of each individual party to such contract and for the purposes of such contract only, in addition to any insurable interest which may otherwise exist as to the life of such individual.

Labor Law: Actions in concert

In NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD v. WASHINGTON ALUMINUM CO. we look at what constitutes a concerted action, in accordance with NLRA Section 7. The case pertains to an aluminum manufacturing factory in Baltimore, MD in the late 50s that in the winter time was extremely cold. At times to the point of inhospitability(I think i made that word up). There are a number of workers in the factory, that from time to time complain to their supervisors about the cold, and how difficult it is to work. One extremely cold morning they are complaining to a supervisor who says “if those fellows had any guts at all, they would go home.” Shortly there after, they decide to leave. 7 of the 8 workers leave, the 8th was about to leave, but was somehow coerced into staying. There is a company policy that forbids employees from leaving the facility without permission. The workers are fired for violating said policy. They sue, NLRB finds in their favor, stating that their protest is a concerted activity in accordance with section 7, and that they should be reinstated and given back pay. On appeal, the decision is upheld. While there is no organized union, or notice that they were specifically “on strike” the actions were permissible under section 7, and protected as actions in concert. They did complain on several occasions to the employer, specifically about the working conditions, and nothing was done to remedy them. They then, in concert, decided to leave due to the extreme cold.


The Basics of Insurance

This fall I am taking a course that clearly does not get the respect that it deserves. I say this, because Insurance is something that everyone deals with, and most attorneys work with. I mean, if you’re a patent attorney or a family attorney you might not, but the “bread and butter” attorneys work in insurance, whether for defense, plaintiff’s work, or even in a non-litigation facility. I think something like 18% of the United States GDP is from insurance holdings. However, this course is only offered for 2 credits. What a shame. Maybe my opinion is skewed because insurance companies essentially pay my pay check. 80% or more of our office comprises of auto accident cases or other serious injury claims, all to be paid by insurance companies. We handle criminal defense cases, but those clients rarely pay, and it represents an ever dwindling percentage of our overall caseload, especially with the new marketing that we’ve done since April.

That being said, I look forward to the rest of this course. Even at 2 credits, I’ll probably get as much if not more out of this course than any of the others that I am taking this fall.


Week 1’s Cases:

GAF Corp. v. County School Board

(hey, i think that linked to the case. Whee!) This is a case of what is insurance? GAF is a company out of Delaware that manufactures, distributes and installs(unclear as to whether this is part of what they do or not) roofs and roofing shingles. They contract with a school in Virginia for roofing work. Among the work was a guarantee as follows:

“The contracts contained a guarantee in which GAF agreed to repair damage to the roofing membrane and base flashing resulting from leaks caused by natural deterioration of the roofing membrane or base flashing, blisters, bare spots, fish mouths, ridges, splits not caused by structural failure, buckles and wrinkles, thermal shock, gravel stop breaks, plastic pans, workmanship in applying the membrane and base flashing, and slippage of the GAF products. The guarantee excluded leaks caused by natural disasters, structural defects, damage to the building and certain other events unrelated to any defect in GAF’s products.”

The case is on appeal for a decision to quash service on GAF. In Virginia there is a procedural method of effecting service on an insurance company that is not authorized as an insurer in Virginia. This action also allows for additional damages, including attorney’s fees, which would not be applicable in a simple breach of contract/breach of warranty issue.

The issue is whether or not the guarantee provided by GAF constitutes insurance, or a mere guarantee. This case is somewhat unique, as the wording and terms of the guarantee, as above, appear to go “beyond the normal scope” of a quality of product warranty but the court finds that it does not rise to the level of insurance. The case was remanded back to the district court with instructions to quash service.

Rawlings v. Apodaca

Bad faith! This case represents the evil swinging hammer that is lurking in some jurisdictions behind insurance companies, in an effort to make sure that they do what is right to protect their insureds. In this case, there is a farm owned by Rawlings that has insurance on some or all of the buildings. There is a fire, that is suspected to have been caused by the neighbor, Apodaca, which spreads to the Rawlings farm and destroys a building. The building is insured through Farmer’s insurance for $10,000, however the damage is much more extensive. Farmer’s orders a fire investigation, and Rawlings asks whether or not they will have access to the report, or if they should order one of their own. Farmer’s states that they will share the report.

The report reveals that Apodaca is the cause of the fire, and that they, too are insured with Farmer’s, except for $100,000.00. Too late to hire a fire investigator, Rawlings is denied the report from Farmer’s. They sue both Apodaca and Farmer’s both in tort(Apodaca) and Bad faith(Farmer’s). An insurance company has a duty to protect its insured, and can not “screw over” their insured to protect their own interest. Rawlings wins the claim, both against Apodaca, and against Farmer’s, for punitive damages. Moral of the story, which doesn’t see to really be learned, is that insurance companies cannot(shouldnt) screw people over, especially their insureds. However, my experience tells me that they will push this issue as long and far as they can, just to save a buck. In jurisdictions with bad faith and punitive damages, not paying claims is dime smart, and dollar foolish.

Deschler v. Fireman’s Fund American Life Insurance

This case delves into the intricate language of insurance policies, specifically when they pertain to exclusions in a policy. This is a case in which party Deschler has a life insurance policy, and dies in an accident involving a water ski kite. The case goes into the technical details of how the water ski kite operates, and how he came to pass. There is an exclusion in the policy, negating payout if death arises as a result of use of a  “device for aerial navigation”. The question the court tackles is more of a semantic definition of the wording, and what the water ski kite is. The decision states that the water ski kite is a device for aerial navigation, and the dissent disagrees with an interesting argument. Its the battle of engineers, when most of the judges probably are not engineers. The majority defines the aerial navigation devices by 2 broad criteria: (1) the aerodynamic principles which affect its ability to become and remain airborne, and (2) the degree of control which the operator has over its direction, speed, and the timing and place of landing.

The dissent interestingly concludes that by this theory that an amusement park ride would be a device for aerial navigation, which is clearly untrue:

“The question presented by this appeal is restricted to whether a device which is tethered to the earth is a device for aerial navigation. Like many amusement park rides which remain tethered to the ground by cables and other mechanical means, a water ski kite depends for its operation upon its tether to the boat which it trails. Clearly amusement park rides are not devices for aerial navigation. Similarly, water ski kites cannot be so considered. There is no legitimate distinction between them.”